Research - Prof. dr. E. Helena Houvenaghel

Exile & Migration - Myth & History Rewriting

Cultural Syncretism and Hybridity

The cultural identity of the Judeo-Mexican-American writer Susana Chávez Silverman, descendant of migrants, is multilayered and her linguistic identity is a patchwork of languages (Spanish, English, Italian, South African, French, Brazilian Portuguese) and accents (Argentinian Spanish, Peninsular Spanish, Mexican Spanish). This multiple cultural and linguistic identity is also reflected in Silverman’s multilayered concept of the world map. In her autobiographical writings, Chávez Silverman rarely situates herself in one single place or one single moment, but is constantly connected to different spaces. The autobiographical self is the one to problematize, in Bilingual Memories (2004), her own incapacity to be in one single place at a specific moment. She becomes aware of her constant way of connecting distant places and calls into question her own “weird geography”, this involuntary, inevitable tendency that characterizes her way of being. In this article, “Counter-mapping by second generation migrant authors: Susana Chávez Silverman’s Bilingual memories (2004)” I study Chavez-Silverman’s way of mapping the (multiple) self.

In “Sisters between rivalry and alliance: Models of femininity in Las hermanas Agüero (1997) by Cristina García”, Houvenaghel studies how a Greek and a Cuban myth on brother- and sisterhood serve as a double intertext in this novel. A cross-reading through the lens of these myths illuminates the novel’s gender dimension. The Greek myth of Helios and his sisters Selene and Eos –representations of the Sun, the Moon and the Dawn– develops an interaction between two opposed siblings, on the one hand, and the third sister, a transitional figure who acts as an intermediate, on the other. In parallel with these dynamics, the novel contrasts, first, two female archetypes that appear to be incompatible and introduces, second, a third model of femininity that is characterized by hybridity and ambiguity. This third conception of femininity is based on ‘la Cachita’, the syncretic Afro-Cuban Virgin that is Cuba’s patron saint. The novel The Agüero Sisters thus questions the system that pigeonholes women at one end or the other of an imposed duality and proposes a different, ambivalent model of femininity.